From the Director





by Rex Parker, Director

New Telescope for the Observatory. After the vote at the June meeting the new telescope acquisition proposal was approved by the membership (34 “yes” votes). For the record, the previously stated need for a 40% quorum was outdated (my mistake); current by-laws require “majority of the votes cast and not less than 30% of membership”. A big thanks to several members who volunteered to serve on the telescope search and selection committee: Bill Murray, Larry Kane, Jim Poinsett, Arshad Jilani, John Church, Jim McHenry, and Jeff Bernardis; Ira Polans, Dave Skitt, Jennifer Skitt, Gene Ramsey, and Michael Mitrano also weighed in. A telescope interest survey in late June elicited 35 member responses and helped sort out priorities. The selection committee reviewed many options and through four teleconferences the following candidates were considered:

     • 16-22” f/5 Dobsonian Newtonian, tabled the idea for future consideration.
      • Parallax 14” f/7 Newtonian, decided against due to ergonomics of eyepiece position.
      • 6” TMB apochromatic refractor, decided against due to similarity to Hastings 6”.
      • TEC 8” f/20 Maksutov Cassegrain, decided against due to smaller aperture.
      • Luton Optics 10” f/20 Maksutov-Cassegrain.
      • TEC 10” f/20 Maksutov Cassegrain.
      • Takahashi Mewlon 250 10” f/12 Dall-Kirkham Cassegrain.

In the end the decision came down to the Cassegrain designs, and the Takahashi Mewlon 250 was selected. This very high quality instrument has a 3-meter focal length and excels with high resolution and very good contrast. The outstanding optical quality of the Mewlon mirrors and the Dall-Kirkham Cassegrain design are especially well suited for planetary/lunar observing, but the scope is also very capable with deep sky celestial objects as well. There are several reviews on the internet available, such as the Cloudy Nights forum, which help to understand just how special this telescope is. The telescope, Feathertouch focuser, and mounting hardware were received in late July. On July 30, Gene Ramsey, Tom Swords, and I mounted the Mewlon onto the Paramount ME alongside the Hastings refractor. Some pictures are below and more are posted on the website. Let’s have some good member turnouts at the Observatory this Aug and Sept to try out the new telescope.

Takahashi Mewlon 250 acquired by AAAP mounted on the Paramount ME alongside the historic Hastings refractor at the Observatory Jul 30. Working on the scope are Gene Ramsey, Tom Swords, and Rex Parker.

Posted in Mid-summer 2016, Sidereal Times | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

From the Director




by Rex Parker,  Director

June 14 meeting – quorum needed for proposal below – please participate in the motion. We’ll be meeting at the NJ State Museum Planetarium, our tradition each June. Bill Murray, AAAP member and staff technical guru at the Planetarium, will be running the show. See Ira’s section in this month’s Sidereal Times.

Capital expenditure proposal at June 14 meeting: Authorize expenditure of up to $10,000 to acquire a telescope for the Observatory. Specifically the idea is to purchase a telescope to co-mount with the Hasting 6” refractor on the second Paramount at the club’s Washington Crossing Observatory. The goal is to obtain the new scope in time to support this summer’s observing season. The treasury can readily absorb the expenditure. I will also appoint and chair a committee to decide on the specific telescope.

AAAP by-laws state: “For expenditures or appropriations in excess of $500 per meeting, a quorum of 40% of the membership shall be required; up to 25% of the membership may be represented by written and signed absentee ballot on an expenditure question that has been previously published in the Association’s monthly newsletter.”

Rationale and recommendation for the proposed new telescope. One of our greatest assets is the Observatory at Washington Crossing State Park. It enables the direct experience of astronomy for our members and provides the stage for public outreach where we connect with hundreds of kids and adults every year. As detailed in the plan reviewed by the Board 2 years ago, the goal is to upgrade the telescopes and instruments and computer/software systems to improve the quality of the experience at the Observatory. Some of the equipment has indeed been upgraded. To complete the plan, the current proposal is to acquire an instrument that compliments the existing telescopes. It would be primarily used visually but should be capable of digital imaging as well.

The recommendation, discussed at the March Board meeting, is to identify a telescope designed to excel at planetary/lunar/double star observing as well as the smaller deep sky objects such as planetary nebulae. Candidates (likely “used” scopes) include a 6” apochromatic refractor, 10” Maksutov-Cassegrain reflector, Dall-Kirkham Cass (such as a Takahashi Mewlon), or maybe a dedicated solar scope. At least two used telescopes have been identified to date that fit the requirements. There will be time to discuss which scope and why over the next several weeks, but the time to conduct the procedural requirement is June 14 if we want to acquire it this summer.

Seeking a new Co-Editor of Sidereal Times. We seek a member with the “right stuff” to succeed Michael Wright as co-editor of the ST, along with Surabhi Agarwal who will continue. Sidereal Times is the official voice of AAAP and is updated on-line monthly as a blog on our website. The co-editor manages written contributions from members and has the opportunity to apply creative writing skills and become proficient in WordPress. This is a visible and high status role in the club and brings internet visibility to the editors and contributors and the club as a whole. Please contact me and/or Surabhi if interested.

Plan to attend Jersey StarQuest Oct 28-30. If you’d like to get away from light pollution with your telescope but wonder where to go and safely observe in public places, Starquest is an opportunity to observe under some of the better skies in the NJ area. AAAP will host the annual Jersey StarQuest Oct 28-30, 2016 at the Hope Conference and Renewal Center in Hope, NJ. This family-friendly event is located in northern Jersey (north of Jenny Jump State Forest). If you don’t own a scope, this is an excellent event to observe through many different kinds and learn more about telescopes and mounts. The venue offers a fine observing field with electricity under good skies, modern bunkhouses, showers, and group lobby area with kitchen. Registration will be walk-in with modest pay-on-arrival fee. Mark your calendar!


NGC672, interacting galaxies in the constellation Triangulum. Credit: Rex Parker, 2016,

NGC672, interacting galaxies in the constellation Triangulum. Credit: Rex Parker, 2016,

Posted in June 2016, Sidereal Times | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

AAAP June 14, 2016 Meeting – NJ State Planetarium

by Ira Polans, Program Chair

New Jersey State Museum

New Jersey State Museum

The June meeting of the AAAP, and our last until next September, will take place on June 14th at the Planetarium of the New Jersey State Museum in Trenton. The meeting will start at 7:30 PM.

In addition to our normal club meeting attendees will view a live star talk as well as our new science show at the Planetarium, “Asteroid: Mission Extreme”.

There is plenty of parking in front of the planetarium entrance behind the museum.

Museum is located at – 205 W. State Street, Trenton, NJ 08625

We look forward to seeing you at the meeting.

The program committee is beginning to look for speakers for September and beyond. If you have any suggestions please email

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Minutes of the May 10, 2016 AAAP Meeting

by James Poinsett, Secretary

  • Assistant Director Larry Kane called the meeting to order and introduced the chairman of the nominating committee, Bill Murray.
  • Bill read the slate of candidates for officers for the 2016/2017 club year and asked if there were any other members interested in running for office, no one volunteered. The election was held and the slate was elected unanimously, there were 40 members present and voting.
  • Larry continued the meeting after the lecture and thanked everyone who participated in communiversity, we had a very good day.
  • Michael Mitrano, the treasurer, had no news to report.
  • Secretary Jim Poinsett sent an email to all members requesting they respond to confirm their email address. If you didn’t receive that email please email to confirm your email.
  • Gene Ramsey gave the observatory report.
    • We had a good day for the Mercury transit. There were 10 telescopes at the observatory for viewing. An article is being written for Sky and Telescope about using it being the third century the H/B refractor was used to view a Mercury transit.
    • There was poor weather for the scout jamboree. We still managed to show them the observatory and telescopes. There was a brief window of clear sky for viewing on Saturday night.
  • Two representatives from Jenny Jump were visiting to discuss our rarely used observatory. They suggest sharing/leasing it with a NY club that is interested or possibly giving it up entirely. The discussion on this will continue at future meetings.
  • Michael Wright has stepped down as co-editor of SideReal Times. A new co-editor is needed. Let Surabhi know if you are interested.
  • Two nights of a planetarium/observatory program are planned, they are May 13th and 27th.
  • The Cherry Springs Star Party is June 2-5, a group is planning on meeting there. Speak with Rex Parker or Bill Murray if you are interested.
  • Dave Skitt is setting up tax-exempt status with a computer vendor for the club. Soon we will have the new computers and software that was approved for purchase.
  • There being no further business the meeting was adjourned.
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Telescope Longevity

by John Church

Our historic 6¼-inch Hastings-Byrne refractor, with its objective lens dating from 1879, was ready for the morning of May 9th and the transit of Mercury. We comfortably followed and photographed the transit with a 55-mm Plossl eyepiece and a solar filter specially made by observatory co-chair Dave Skitt.

Members and guests came throughout the day to enjoy this fairly rare spectacle, averaging only 13 times per century. Most of those transits that could be seen here seem to get clouded out. This time, the clouds stayed away until not long before third and fourth contacts, so we didn’t get to see the end of it, although some members did observe second contact.

The first Mercury transit at which it was used was in 1881 by its original owner, Charles Rockwell, in Honolulu (Sky & Telescope for March 1979, p. 294-300). Several AAAP members made the much shorter trek to this writer’s home in Princeton Junction for the Nov. 10th, 1973 transit. The scope was being stored there while our observatory was still in the planning stage.

This scope has also been used to time two consecutive transits of Venus, which are far rarer than transits of Mercury. These were in 1882 (again by Rockwell) and 2004, at our Simpson Observatory in Washington Crossing State Park. The 2012 transit was too low in the western sky to be seen at the observatory even if the weather had allowed it, but some members did glimpse it briefly from a garage rooftop in Princeton. The next one won’t be visible here until 2125. We can hardly wait.

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Mercury Transit, May 9th, 2016

Mercury crosses the face of the sun just 13 times a century. Most recently it did on May 9th. Our club members gathered at the observatory and viewed the event together. Some of our member astrophotographers took some wonderful pictures.

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Galaxies too die

by Prasad Ganti

About three decades ago, when I came out of college I heard that all Stars are born and eventually die, it was a shocking revelation for me. Like it is for a child who learns that a human being or an animal can die. Innocence, based on the permanence of the Sun, got shattered. Recently I heard that even galaxies die. So what is next ? Will the Universe die sometime ? Let us look at what death means in each of these cases.

A star is formed when a huge mass of gas, mostly hydrogen, comes under the influence of gravity and gets squeezed into the shape of a ball. This raises the temperature and stokes the nuclear furnace whereby the hydrogen atoms fuse to form helium and release enormous amounts of energy. Once all the hydrogen turns into Helium, the star goes into death throes. There could be other nuclear reactions fusing helium to higher elements like Carbon, all the way up to Iron, before the star ultimately dies. Depending on the mass of the star, the death and the ultimate state takes different forms. Medium stars like Sun will blow out and end up as a compact white dwarf. While heavier stars will blow up as Supernovas and end up as a compact neutron star. There are many other subtle variations of the ultimate state possible, but this is the gist.

Rare & dying: Giant radio galaxy found 9mn light yrs away from Earth.  Photo credit: NASA

Rare & dying: Giant radio galaxy found 9mn light yrs away from Earth. Photo credit: NASA

Stars and their planets were one of the earlier astronomical structures to be formed in the Universe. Later the solar systems accumulated to form higher structures like a galaxy. Then galaxies accumulated to form a local cluster of galaxies, and then a super cluster. Galaxies typically contain millions or billions of stars each. Star formation happens all the time in galaxies. And stars die too. The cycle of birth and death continues. Stars use hydrogen as a fuel and cook higher elements and at the end of their lives spew them back, which forms the raw material for the next generation of stars.

Gravity is the master sculptor in the Universe. The same force discovered by Sir Isaac Newton as responsible for the fall of an apple from a tree to the ground, is responsible for creation of stars and their planets, the galaxies, clusters of galaxies etc.

While stars are formed from gas and dust, they breathe the gas until the end of their lives. And star formation makes Galaxies active and lively. Gas feeds the star formation in any galaxy. If the gas is stripped away by either the external or internal forces, the star formation will stop. Once the star formation stops, the galaxy will be alive as long as the existing stars are alive. As these stars die, the galaxy reaches its death throes. One of the likely culprits is overcrowding. if a galaxy is in a busy group or cluster, its collection of gas from the surrounding environment might face disruption, commencing the strangulation process. The same gravity which leads to clustering and crowding in the first place, can also lead to overcrowding and strangulation.

Maybe the same concept extends to higher structures like local clusters and super clusters. Will the Universe be the next to die ? We will not be around to see our Sun die, or our Milky Way die. Certainly not for the Universe to die. We can only speculate as to what may happen. As per our current understanding, the Universe is expanding at an accelerating rate due to the dark energy. What does the death of the Universe mean ? Even if all the galaxies die, the vacuum of the space is supposed to possess some energy. Will this energy die down ? Will space as such cease to exist ? Or, will the dimensions, including time, simply vanish ?

Seems like human learning is more of a relentless journey towards a direction but without a destination.

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